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The Garde Écossaise (French pronunciation: [ɡaʁd ekɔsɛz], Scots Guard) was an elite Scottish military unit founded in 1418 by the Valois Charles VII of France, to be personal bodyguards to the French monarchy. They were assimilated into the Maison du Roi and later formed the first company of the Garde du Corps du Roi (Life Guards).
In 1450, King James II sent a company of 24 noble Scots under the command of Patrick de Spens, son of his custodian. This company takes the name of archiers du corps or gardes de la manche. On 31 August 1490, this company, these of Patry Folcart, Thomas Haliday and a part of the company of Robin Petitloch begin to be the first company of archiers de la garde du roi under the command of Guillaume Stuier (Stuart). At the beginning la compagnie écossaise des gardes du corps du roi included 100 gardes du corps (25 bodyguards and 75 archiers). Each bodyguard had four men-at-arms under his command, (a squire, an archer, a cranequinier and a servant), one of them acquired the name of premier homme d'armes du royaume de France. They were finally disbanded in 1830 at the abdication of Charles X.
Scottish warriors were believed to have fought for Charlemagne and later in the Armies of Charles the Simple in 882. However, it was not until 1295 and the agreements that would become known as the Auld Alliance, that there was much documentary evidence of French soldiery in Scotland or Scottish soldiery in France. From the outset of the Hundred Years War, there were Scottish companies officially fighting for Philip IV of France. At the Battle of Poitiers, the 1st Earl of Douglas and the future 3rd Earl of Douglas fought for John II, where the future 3rd Earl was captured along with many Scottish knights, notwithstanding the French king himself. In the 1360s there were Scotsmen to be found in the army of Bertrand du Guesclin. In the early 15th century France was split into Armagnac- Burgundian civil strife following the descent into madness of Charles V. Henry V of England saw his opportunity and allied himself with John the Fearless and invaded. The Dauphin despairingly sought allies, and found them amongst the Scots and the Castilians.
In 1418 Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany appointed his son, John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan, Chamberlain of Scotland to command the Scottish expeditionary force, the largest army that medieval Scotland had ever sent abroad. 7000-8000 men arrived at La Rochelle in October 1419 and made their way to Tours to greet the Dauphin. The first thing the future Charles VII did was to shower munificence upon the Scottish nobles. Buchan received Châtillon-sur-Indre, the Earl of Wigtoun received Dun-le-Roi, Sir John Stewart of Darnley received Concressault and Aubigny, and Thomas Seton the castle of Langeais. The Scottish leaders were persuaded to return to Scotland to recruit more troops. The Scottish leadership returned in 1420 with another 4000-5000 reinforcements. While their leaders were at home the Dauphin assigned the Scottish contingent throughout his armies and garrisons and picked a number, roughly one hundred of the best warriors, to be his personal body guard. The Scotsmen fought with distinction throughout France with a notable win at the Battle of Baugé in 1421, where the Duke of Clarence was said to have been felled by Buchan's Mace. However, the Scots faced a calamity at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424, when they lost 6000 men. Although saddened by the loss of so many of his loyal Scotsmen, Charles VII continued to honour the survivors. The Scots had a further setback at the Battle of the Herrings in 1429. The Scottish Army in France fragmented into free companies (a headache for the French state), and also into Compagnies d'ordonnance within the French Army.
However the King kept about him his Garde Écossaise. The Scottish Guards had likely protected him during the murder of John the Fearless at the bridge of Montereau, and rescued him from a fire in Gascony in 1442. There were Scottish Guards who fell at the Battle of Montlhéry defending their King, Louis XI of France, in 1465. It was an officer of the Life guards, Patrick de Spens, who wounded the Charles the Rash Duke of Burgundy, who died soon after in January 1477. The king Charles VIII takes the motto of this officer in his honour: "Si Deus (pro nobis), Quis contra (nos)?"
The Garde Écossaise survived until the end of the Bourbon Monarchy as the senior or Scottish Company of the Gardes du Corps (Body Guards). There were four companies of Body Guards and a detachment of them accompanied the French King wherever he went, posted guards on his sleeping place and even escorted his food from kitchen to table.
During the reign of Francis I the garde were held up by blizzards near the Simplon Pass after a defeat at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. Some of the men reputedly settled there and their descendants became known as the "Lost Clan".
From the 16th century onwards recruitment of the unit was primarily from Frenchmen and the Scottish element gradually died out. However the name was retained as were certain words of command which had originated in Scots. In 1623, the Earl of Enzie began to rebuild the regiment's Scottish identity with new recruits, but it is not clear how long this revival lasted after his return to Scotland in 1637.
By the reign of Louis XV the Scottish Company numbered 21 officers and 330 men in a mounted unit which last saw active service when they escorted Louis at the Battle of Lawfeld on 1 July 1747. On this and other occasions the Scottish Company carried claymores with steel basket guards instead of the swords of the other French heavy cavalry. They were distinguished from the other companies of the Body Guards by wearing white bandoleers garnished with silver lace.
The Scottish Company provided a special detachment of 24 Gardes de la Manche (literally "Guards of the Sleeve") who stood in close attendance to the king during court ceremonies. The name indicated that they stood so close to the monarch as to be brushed by his sleeve. The Gardes de la Manche were distinguished by a heavily embroidered white and gold cassock which they wore over the blue and red and silver uniform of the Body Guard. .
All four companies of the Body Guard were disbanded in 1791. However they were re-established at the time of the First Bourbon Restoration under an ordinance dated 25 May 1814. Until their final dissolution in 1830 the Senior Company retained the title of "les fiers Ecossais" (the proud Scots).